MoMA Class: The Market Is the Medium
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Workers dining outside the Museum on 54 Street before an exhibition opening. Photo: Amy Whitaker

I first started teaching business as a creative practice when I landed at the Slade School of Fine Art in London to study for an MFA in painting—MBA already in hand.  The head of the painting program, Bruce McLean, asked us to give talks about the ideas behind our art—no doubt practice to make us better public speakers, artists who would entertain instead of talking about time, space, the cosmos, dematerialization, or subverting paradigms.

We did it three times, and by the third go-round I talked about what art had to do with business and politics. I showed a company called Ocean Power Technologies, who built clever machines that could harness wave power in the middle of the ocean by hooking a buoy to a turbine with a yo-yo mechanism. I thought they were brilliantly creative, and socially useful. But they were not, at the time, profitable. What did you do when you could only answer “yes” to two of those three propositions: creative, socially useful, and profitable?

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People along the boardwalk in Ostend, Belgium. Photo: Amy Whitaker

That talk led to a series of lunchtime lectures on all different subjects in the MBA curriculum. I would tape the Financial Times to my own large canvases to use as a blackboard. (There was always a shortage of wall space in art school.) My classmates and I would talk about real ideas and belief systems underneath the market. Occasionally, someone would say “this might be a dumb question but,” and then proceed to make a penetrating insight into the nature of capitalism. Once, after class, I walked by a studio where a woman had been inspired to mix exactly the same shade of salmon pink as the FT because she found it beautiful.

Teaching business as a creative practice at Trade School

Business School for Artists class at Trade School

Ever since, I have taught business as a creative practice everywhere from Rhode Island School of Design and Williams College to Trade School and Occupy Wall Street.

I have come to think that there are two kinds of creativity: writing the letter and designing the envelope. Writing the letter is like making a work of art itself. Designing the envelope is creating the system in which that work of art can exist. That envelope could be the day job or a funding strategy for a working artist. It could be the museum for a collection of artworks. It could be a creative company like Warby Parker that creates beautiful eyeglasses and then sells them through an inventive one-for-one model that also creates jobs for women in the developing world.

This upcoming class at MoMA, The Market Is the Medium (starting October 10), is a look at that kind of envelope-building creativity—both in the art world and in the world at large. The artist Joseph Beuys said that everyone is an artist. But everyone is a businessperson too. The market is the medium of our time.